The last few weeks, angry voters have greeted Republican congressmen in districts around the country. As someone who has confronted similar crowds before — and lived to tell about it — I have a simple message for those lawmakers: It’s put-up or shut-up time.
Those are the exact words I told my fellow Republicans in the State Legislature in 2010, after we made big promises on the campaign trail. It was time to govern, and we did just that by taking on public-sector unions that had too much control over the government. In response, 100,000 protesters descended on the Capitol, while others protested at the executive residence and even my house.
Despite the intimidation, we stood strong in our fight for taxpayers. It paid off, and today the budget is balanced, taxes are down and more people in the state are working than ever.
Republicans in Washington need to do the same when it comes to Obamacare, tax reform and the rest of their agenda. Yes, liberals will turn out to protest. But don’t let the left shape the debate. Explain that the centerpiece in the Republican agenda — returning authority to the states — is the best solution to our nation’s problems.
That’s the message the nation’s governors, including 33 Republicans, carried to the White House and congressional Republicans this week. I personally made the case for returning authority to the states — and more important to the people — to President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans.
This is how our founders envisioned our country, and it’s a cause that was championed by President Ronald Reagan and others in both parties who know government is best when close to the governed. Sadly, the federal government has put up barriers to reform, which is why we’re excited about a new administration and Congress willing to partner with the states.
This is not just about touting Republican ideology — it is a practical responsibility to the voters. Americans were given a choice in November: Where do you want your dollar going? To your local school or to Washington? Caring for the needy in your community or to Washington? Their clear answer in 2016 was “not Washington.”
But it won’t be easy. Returning authority to the states will require congressional Republicans to show the courage of their convictions.
In Wisconsin, we saw how far protesters will go. My wife and I received death threats; protesters dressed as zombies once interrupted a ceremony while I was talking with Special Olympians. While not easy, I decided to take the high road: We learned how to make positive arguments, to communicate constantly and to remind people of our promises. And it worked.
Republicans in Congress should heed these lessons. Giving states their power back will lead to outrage because liberals will try to defend the enormous size of the federal government. But going big and bold will pay off. For example, repealing Obamacare is just one part of the agenda; returning authority to the states is a crucial part of how to reform the nation’s health care system.
Or take my battle with Washington to test people seeking public assistance for drug use. They should be employed or enrolled in job training, looking for work five times a week and able to pass a drug test. If they fail, we would get them into rehab and into the work force.
This is not, as some critics would have it, about punishing people. It is about helping them connect with employers. Wisconsin employers are begging for workers with basic skills who are drug-free. As I never tire of telling crowds, if Washington will get out of the way, we can help Wisconsinites, and make sure public assistance is a trampoline — not a hammock.
Scott Walker is the governor of the State of Wisconsin.